In light of the agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco, on December 17, 2015, the formation of a national unity government in Libya was announced: 32 ministers of an executive which must be approved by both Libyan Parliaments. The agreement and possible installation of the new government could have positive effects on the domestic oil market, the production of which is 4 times lower than at the start of the crisis in 2011. In the long term, this could push the Central Bank of Libya towards a wider distribution of income from the sale of crude oil to the factions of Tripoli and Tobruk. However, the attack on the city of Zliten, 35 km from Misrata, in Tripolitania, which, on January 7, 2016 caused more than 47 casualties, 1 of the worst attacks following the attempted coup of former General Khalifa Haftar in 2014, has put the keeping of the agreement to the test. Not only that: the jihadists active in Libya seem engaged in new targeted attacks against local oil terminals. This strategy could contribute towards weakening the fragile agreement between Tripoli and Tobruk and bring an international intervention in Libya.
The Skhirat agreement: a third government for Libya?
The agreement between Tripoli and Tobruk was reached after almost 2 years of formal and informal negotiations. A large group of parliamentarians from both sides signed the final text, with stiff opposition to any form of agreement on the part of many of the MPs of both Parliaments. The agreement, reached thanks to the mediation of the 2 special envoys of the United Nations for Libya, Bernardino León and Martin Kobler, for now remains only on paper. The agreement provides for an immediate ceasefire and opening of humanitarian corridors, especially towards Benghazi. The US has already promised $330 million in first aid. The agreement has in fact created an advisory board including, among others, the Prime Minister-elect, Fayez Sarraj, the 3 Deputy Prime Ministers, Ahmed Maetig, Fathi Majbri and Musa Koni, and the 2 Ministers, Omar Aswad and Mohamed Ammar, representing the Libyan factions. The General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, supported by Qatar and the militias of Misrata, wishes to represent Libya’s political and moderate Islamism. Along with this, a political alternative, which flourished following the NATO attacks in March 2011. But, in reality, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood did not win the 2012 elections nor did it cut all of its ties with Islamic extremism. Instead, the Parliament of Tobruk, supported by Cairo and the militias of Zintan, would like to represent, on the Egyptian model, both the return of the old Gheddafi regime and the democratic aspirations of 2011. According to the Middle Eastern historian from Harvard University, Roger Owen, the agreement may not be enough to overcome the political stalemate. “If the agreement were to create only a third government or puppet government, it could bring a new international intervention under the protection of the UN or directly by NATO in Libya”.
The effects on the oil market
“We expect the Skhirat agreement to be acknowledged and respected by the parties. This will lead to a more equitable distribution of revenues from the sale of oil”, said, on the other hand, Wali Ahmed, Director of the World Islamic Association and advisor to the Prime Minister of Tripoli, Khalifa al-Gweil. So far, things have gone differently. Since the beginning of the year, the jihadists of the Islamic State (ISIS) have attacked the oil terminals of Sidra and Ras Lanuf in the province of Sirte. The area of al-Mabruk, a few kilometers south of Sirte, was already the center of clashes in February last year between militants of the Petroleum Protection Guard of Ibrahim Jadran and militants of the Shield of Misrata. Derna and Sirte are the 2 strongholds of ISIS in the country. In particular, the Russian attacks and the international coalition against the jihadists in Syria last autumn led many terrorists to take shelter in Libya.
For strategic operations and funding, on the Syrian and Iraqi model, Libyan oil terminals have also become a target for jihadists who have found here the support of former Gheddafians. However, many analysts believe that the jihadist presence of ISIS in the country should not be emphasized. The Russian authorities agree on this. “ISIS exaggerates the information on its expansion in Libya”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly said. Libya is poised between a difficult political agreement and a new international intervention. If a stable national unity government were to be actually formed, as emerged from the agreement reached in Morocco, the request for a UN peace-enforcement mission could start directly from Tripoli. Not only this: the European Union could move towards implementing the third phase of EUNAVFOR MED operation with targeted interventions on the Libyan coasts to stop smugglers dealing in the migration business. The restored political stability could limit the extension of interest of the jihadists active in Libya, and could have positive long-term effects on the domestic oil market. If the agreement is not supported, however, the doors would open for a new international intervention in the country, also led by NATO, as already feared by the Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg.